Disrupting Your Comfort Zone

Choosing to climb, instead of to coast

I looked around the large dojang and counted exactly three adults (besides me) with white belts. Aside from them, the room was alive with children, some as young as 6 or 7, some in their teens, most around 10 or 11. Almost all of them were higher ranked than I was.

It was my first time testing for a rank advancement in the martial art of Kyuki-do, and I felt terribly out of place. Even aside from feeling like I was invading an elementary school P.E. class, I was the only one without a uniform. Mine had not arrived yet, so I was wearing the black sweats I’d worn to previous classes. In the milling crowd of stretching, sparring, shrieking participants, I stood out in every possible way: taller, older, and wearing entirely the wrong color.

I started warming up, doing stretches as best I could. I immediately felt even more awkward, since my best stretches are pretty pitiful, especially compared to the 10-year-olds around me. I watched as a girl a quarter of my age did the splits, and to add insult to injury, she touched her head to the mat while she did it.

Meanwhile, 41-year-old-me struggled to reach as far as my ankles. Pathetic. What am I even doing here?

Eventually, the instructor separated us by rank, and we got all lined up. I was testing for my first advancement, from white belt to yellow-stripe, so I lined up with the other white belts, but for some reason, the instructor moved me aside and asked me to wait. I sat out while my group went through the kibon form, demonstrated the obligatory blocks and kicks, and did some quick hapkido escapes. I felt intensely uncomfortable as I sat, wondering if I’d misunderstood, and if maybe I was supposed to be up there with them after all.

When the instructor dismissed them and called the next group up — those with yellow-stripe belts who were testing for solid yellow — I raised my hand. He nodded for me to get in with them.

Really?

So, we went through kibon, which went well enough. I was ready for that. But then the instructor called for them to start kicho, the form for the yellow belt advancement, and which I did not know at all. Feeling terribly obvious in my black sweats, I took a few steps back and stood aside while everyone else went through the form. I tried to relax. I tried to exude a confidence I didn’t feel.

When it was all done, though, the instructor who had been evaluating me (who also happened to be my instructor during practices) simply told me that I’d done well, and that while I could do better with power and precision, I’d done great for my first test.

Everything was fine. I’d passed. I bowed to him and shook his hand, muttering kamsa-hamnida (“thank you”, in Korean), and making my exit.


I’ve thought a lot about that experience. It was terribly uncomfortable. I went into as prepared as I could possibly be — I’d practiced every day, exercised regularly, worked on my stretches, on my kicks and blocks, on kibon. I knew everything I needed for my advancement, but the situation was far outside my experience. There was really nothing I could have done to prepare myself for that.

But I went into it anyway. I did the best I could. I accepted the unfamiliarity of it, refused to beat myself up for all my perceived flaws, and in the end, it all worked out.

And I came through it stretched. Not physically — at least, not only physically. My capacity increased. I no longer look with trepidation on rank advancement. I think I’ve seen the worst, because next time I will have a uniform, and I will be (a little bit) more flexible, and, well, I won’t be any younger, but maybe I’ll feel younger, and that’s what matters at the end of the day.

I stepped way, way outside my comfort zone. I disrupted the smack out of it. And I’m stronger for it.

Perhaps comfort is over-rated. Maybe what we need is less coasting, and more climbing. Maybe we need to be more willing to step outside these little bubbles of comfort and take a walk in the dark now and then.

I think I want to take more of those walks.